20 minute readVeterans introspect over cadet beating video

A grab from the video.

A grab from the video.

Since the publication of the video of a military cadet being thrashed by his senior with a hockey stick on StratPost, many retired servicemen have offered their views on what is being largely perceived to be gross misconduct.

This disapproval has also led to other media picking up on the incident and criticizing the conduct depicted.

While the army has already condemned the behavior, one veteran, Colonel Vinay Dalvi, a former APTC instructor and author of the Victory India series of books, has worked hard, on his part, to get feedback from the community of veterans on the incident. He has drawn varied thoughtful responses, all of which censure the misconduct.

Colonel Dalvi has also submitted a memorandum to the army on this issue, recommending measures to prevent and minimize such behavior.

Here’s some of the commentary provoked by the video:

The video depicting a senior cadet physically assaulting and abusing a junior is just a small sample of what obviously continues to happen in our military academies even today. Those officers who have denied it in the past and continue to deny it even now give silent approval for its acceptance/continuation as a so called part of training.

Having served for 37 years in the Army and trained officer cadets for nine yrs in NDA/IMA/OTA, I have personally tried to stop/discourage these weird /sadistic practices which defy logic and sense. In fact, they undo a lot of good that accrues from the official/scheduled training. Even post retirement my earnest endeavor has been to help the organization to address such senseless practices.

These illegal activities/practices in the garb of non structured training, in the past, have caused immense damage to the official/scheduled training and have been highly detrimental towards the overall nurturing,training and grooming of the young and budding officers and has adversely affected the quality of our military leadership.

If the organization fails to effectively curb and eradicate this menace ruthlessly the unfortunate cadets/officers will continue to pay heavy price and the military and the country suffer the ill and adverse effects in the form of weak/poor military leadership which the nation can ill afford any longer. – Colonel Vinay Dalvi

I have been following this (seemingly endless) debate for long and am unable to resist commenting on it. My comments are short (though not too sweet):-

a) Corporal punishment of any kind is unacceptable.

b) Those who perpetuate this practice, through thought, word or deed, need to be severely punished.

c) The Army, Navy and Air Force Acts are sufficient to punish the offenders. The first step is to remove the individual physically from the Institution, place under suspension, till the inquiry is over. If vindicated, there would be no prejudice to reinstatement.

However, it is necessary to differentiate physical punishment (such as pack parade, ET run, Singarh Hike etc), from physically hitting the target.

My humble suggestion is to cease perpetuating this unproductive debate, and debate instead on effective measures to curb this practice. Having JCO’s, Div Offrs etc sleeping in the barracks is not an effective solution. This is not an armchair response, but based on my experience as a Div Offr. I have punished many cadets where appropriate – and without corporal punishment. The dignity of the individual was always protected – the act was punishable and not the individual. Post punishment, the slate was clean. – Air Commodore SN Bal, AVSM (Retd), former DIV OFFR, NDA

We are looking for root causes to the problem of ragging as well as physical beating. It is inbuilt in our nature as well as animals…..the survival of the fittest. the fight for supremacy and dominance exists in all beings. The weak will dominate the weaker and the stronger will at some time or the other bully the weak maybe physically or amongst humans even in words and taunts. Look at all the cartoons children are exposed to………… Tom and Jerry or the present craze Doraemon where in disrespect is prevailing. Look at all games where killing and injury to others is popular.

A large no of the lower middle class who lived under difficult times and are prospering are joining schools and institutions for better prospects. The environment in the erstwhile poorer sections have not been conducive to live and let live. So the education of fellow human beings has to start at home and not in Sainik Schools and NDA. There is a definite need to put the school teachers , instructors through a strict regimen to train them to educate and supervise the students and cadets. CCTV cameras are only a deterrent but not means of elimination of the cause. Moreover these gadgets need constant monitoring which is not foolproof.

The old adage of spare the rod and spoil the child has been lost with our adoption of western culture. With both parents working to ensure a more comfortable life, many have lost out on good parenting which needs no elaboration.

A few instructors have encouraged Kambal Parades of yore and now beating. Even fellow cadets who are more sane accept it and allow the so called discipline enforcers to mete out punishment. The now humiliated junior will at some stage or the other do it in the academy or with his men on the slightest provocation….(Incident in Karu …Leh…with the Arty unit). Notice in the beginning of the video there is a fellow cadet walking past nonchalantly. Punishment to the perpetrators is not the answer but a wider publication and awareness of parents. The teachers really have no say in the schools due to the soft approach of the commercially oriented managements.

In the Belgaum Military School some years ago protection had to be provided to the senior classes during board exams as the juniors would not let them sit for the exams due to the bullying, ragging and the beating the younger boys went through. why did it not stop long ago or be nipped in the bud and allow it to come to that stage. – Colonel Melvel D’Souza, Maratha LI, former COY CDR/ADJT IMA & DIPR/SSB ‘Q’

The video clip on Corporal Punishment meted out to future officer of the Defense Forces makes me hang my head in shame. Anger or outburst from a senior can take such a turn is fathomable! To imagine that such a cadet has cleared SSB is also a question mark ? I consider myself lucky to have been part of veterans who have expressed themselves through platform Victory India II and the Approach Paper.

Reason for such a punishment if checked will be taking a shortcut, not coming up to expectations in sports during squadron competition ,being late on a fall in or challenging a senior for such punishments or similar mundane reasons. Does it really require a punishment of beating which is the indulgence of goons ? We all agree that our future officers have to be tough. Tough in what way ? Our officers have to be physically and mentally tough but this is not the way where he is humiliated to such a degree that he regrets having joined forces. Over a period of time the cadet taking the punishment either becomes a recluse or inculcates revengeful attitude which is bad for the system and the organization.

Punishment given should commensurate with the mistake. Because no one really commits crime! Those who do should be shunted out of academy and not punished. Hence punishment should not be corporal. It could be in shape of calling the junior in packs (But not after lights out) , gating them on week ends and similar such punishments which can be listed where by both the senior and junior does not feel vulnerable. Our future officers should be mentally balanced and be high on moral pedestal.

I sincerely hope that the observations of the veterans in Victory India I and II and the Approach Paper are taken heed of on a war footing. – Colonel CM Chavan, former AIR DEF ARTY

Being from Sainik School Bijapur and Sainik Schools and Military Schools being the major feeder line to NDA and other Academies, it is pertinent to carry out root cause analysis of this kind of behavior. The cadets from SS and Mil Schools carry forward their assertiveness and fury to the military academies especially the NDA. I remember being ragged in school in junior classes by my seniors who were mostly north Indians (Haryana /Punjab/Delhi etc). Most of them did not make it to the NDA or the Armed Forces is different story but they managed to inculcate the ‘ragging culture’ in Kanadiga’s and other south Indian boys. Cadets from such background, on joining NDA tend to carry forward their ragging routine/culture and bond well with cadets from other SS/Mil schools. They also tend to shelter boys from their schools and those from similar background and at the same time go all out on physically weaker section of cadets (from civilian background) in imposing their will, both physically and mentally.

To deal with these kind of situations we have to start from the identified root causes, that is from Sainik Schools and Military Schools. As far as the NDA and the Military Academies are concerned we need to impose strict ‘code of conduct’ for cadets and weed out such practices ruthlessly. I am aware that some senior armed Forces officers who are presently in appointments/posts from which they can make the required changes, unfortunately, harbor silent approval of such practices (ragging/corporal punishment), which is the main stumbling block. In today’s electronic media and prevailing environment the Armed Forces must put their best foot forward in ensuring that best talent is attracted towards the noble profession of soldiering. Such incidents and acts of resentment at NDA and other Academies will only continue to bring a bad name to the noble profession and wean away the right talent crucially required for the forces, which is already suffering from acute shortage of officers. – Colonel Pradeep Dalvi, (retired)

The treatment meted out to the junior cadets as seen in the clip is totally deplorable and causes severe indignation. This is outright bullying and abuse of authority. Such actions will result in unpredictable negative backlash and deserves to be condemned along with strict disciplinary proceedings against the perpetrator. It could also manifest in the form of insubordination in a future scenario which could be catastrophic.

All officers who have passed out of the hallowed portals of our academies have faced tough situations with their seniors. But there was a limit to the corporal punishment and there was no brutality. Having faced tough punishments the junior should realize his mistake and accept the consequences. He should not begin to despise the senior. I recall many of my seniors who punished me or even casually ‘ragged’ me . But they never were brutal or cruel. I have high regards for them even after over forty years. They have done well in service and risen to higher echelons.

To deal with the above situation (if true) there is a need to take corrective action on a case to case basis. You can neither make rules to dilute the authority of superiors nor give them blanket sanction to deal brutally with errant subordinates. A good military leader should have strong character, which embodies commitment to strict discipline and justice along with compassion for his subordinates. This is to be not only taught as part of curriculum but also is learned by the juniors when they observe their superiors.

It is important to distinguish between a harsh disciplinarian and a brutal, cruel and sadist tyrant. The former is preferred by the Armed Forces. But the latter gets away posing as a disciplinarian. Every junior rises to become senior and exercises his power. Therefore at early stage of training each cadet/GC has to be indoctrinated to be just and desist from cruelty/brutality in exercising his powers . This also has to be repeated during post commission courses (YO/JC/Sr Command) .

Sometimes a senior may be too harsh and justify it claiming it to be for overall benefit of service. This has to be examined by higher echelons and that is why I say it depends on case to case basis. – Commander M N Yeolekar (retired)

If a punishment is more stringent than a test then it has a negative impact both physically and psychologically because a cadet may be required to undergo it much before he is actually due to appear in the test. Punishments need to be very simple for first termers. – Col NP Sharma (retired), former APTO IMA

Inculcating discipline in future officers of the armed forces is important, but the issue at hand is the way it is implemented. While physical fitness is a must, it is not and cannot be the over-riding factor to inculcate discipline. Self discipline comes about by self awakening for which mental strength is more important.

While I agree that at times punishment is harsh but I do not agree with usage of words like “brutal, breaking down individuals, agonizing experience of a lifetime, violent doses” etc. I wonder what % of officers (all are ex cadets/GCs) remember it as such! Punishment has to be corrective and not be a de-motivator or leading to disillusionment. Co-relating Punishment to physicals, stands to no logic, to further peg the standards higher than the required physical standards of a given term is absolutely ridiculous. I’m surprised that such an anomaly exists. You are right, in the final analysis these are counter – productive and fail to drive home the intended aim of inculcating self discipline. Moreover, the trend to convert the Pack 08 to a mule pack and enhancing distances to run (without any scientific backing) has to be done away with. The trend today worldwide is to lighten the load of a soldier, keep him mentally alert and not weigh him down physically!

Drill – I know your point is different but Drill as a concept has to change; stamping/ digging etc need to be reduced if not totally eliminated. Movements can be sharp, smart and in coordination w/o stamping and digging; but sadly, bulk of we officers feel that the parade will not look impressive if we don’t stamp/ dig! I did try to reduce too much of emphasis on drill. Initially to break in the (greenhorn) GCs, all drill was on soft ground, with min stamping/ digging/ touching knees to the chest) and the emphasis was on improving their soldierly bearing, smartness (chest and face up, stomach pulled in, the famous seat tight, no slouching etc). Their advent to the main drill square was almost close to the mid-term. The aim of drill should be to ensure that an individual has a soldiery bearing, carries himself well and goes through all motions smartly w/o too much of stamps and digs, but then such views don’t last long after one demits office.

The last thing that should happen is a demeaning/ un-soldierly punishment. Humiliating any human being is not acceptable. I came down heavily on this. The culprits were more the officer directing staff, and I did RTU two officers on this count. I ensured that the staff (especially NCOs), were respectful, a small example; when addressing, the staff had to always say ‘GENTLEMEN CADET (S)’ in full and NOT GCs.. a yell which rings in our ears!

Scientific approach to physicals is a must. I insisted on getting a sports medicine specialist posted to the Academy and we got very positive results. During my tenure I had Cols (Dr) Ghai and Das Sarma, they did an excellent job. I remember one of them took charge of 20-25 GCs of a course relegated on physicals. In a short period after specific exercises for the identified weak muscle most of them improved and passed the required tests easily. You may seek additional inputs from them as they are still in service.

Inputs from foreign academies will have to be seen very pragmatically. Their views on discipline/punishment/ legal aspects are very different and the Honor Code is well implemented. There is also a major societal difference. Take for example the pregnancy policy existing in some western academies (not related to the subject under debate, but then just to support the point that I’m putting across)! Even if we think of this at the OTA the media specially and the entire country will hound us out to hell?

Attitudinal Change in Instructors – Maturity of instructors is very important, I felt that platoon commanders should get posted as instructors only after attending the JC course, by when they would be not only be better qualified to teach but be more mature. This will help in overcoming a number of shortcomings that have been listed in the article and will assist in achieving the Aim of Training. Officer instructors tend to get personal and waver between extremes of likes and dislikes. Majority do have a positive attitude but in their exuberance wanted his lot of GCs to do well (no harm) but this trend got exemplified in subjective aspects of grading like OQ/ outdoors, rather than the instructor putting in other effort and spending additional time to enhance the performance of the GCs. Of course we have a system to overcome such loose cannons. Better selection and mature instructors who do not carry their wrong experiences as cadets as ‘ill placed baggage’ to be down loaded on the Cadets is a must!

I read the views/observations attached. I feel that personal experiences seem to color some/most observations and would like two ask two questions.

How many officers feel that physical conditioning at the Academy has turned them into non-thinking Officers? I think very few would say ‘Yes’ to this!

How many have felt that the training (specifically physicals and/or punishments at the NDA) has made them into cheats who hoodwinked the system? Again very few will say yes it did!

We Faujis need to see and realize our worth. Yes we must introspect and remove our shortcomings by being positive rather than negative! Do broadcast our cornucopia of pluses, we have! – Lt Gen RS Sujlana, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, (retired), Former Commandant, IMA

Shiksha in my mother tongue means punishment. In Hindi it means education. Education in my mother tongue is Vidyabhyasam (knowledge and exercise of that knowledge). The aim of Shiksha or punishment is correction by whatever means. Correction is best done from within and it cannot be imposed from outside. That is the essence of self discipline. If it is imposed from outside with pressure applied in whatever form then it reverts to its original form when the pressure is removed. The first attempt should be to modify the errant’s behavior from within. People might say that this is a soft approach, but there have been occasions in NDA when I did not even know what I am being punished for, when I am being punished by senior cadets especially an “Academy Punishment by the ACA”! I am sure many Ex NDAs will concur with me. The result was that I tried to avoid all punishments that I felt was unjust and I must say with pride that I succeeded 90% of the time. I passed out of NDA with 2 Extra Drills and no Restrictions in all my 7 terms – the certificate at the end stated that I had “Exemplary Discipline”. This informal training taught me when I could take risks and get away with it – essential in military life when dealing with the enemy.

When I was a Cadet, during lunch I did leave a little bit of rice on my plate when I closed it. The ubiquitous Deputy Commandant spotted it (no marks for guessing who the Deputy Commandant was). I was expecting the usual 21 x 4 (21 days Restrictions with 4 Sinhgarh hikes on all intervening Sundays) to boom out. He said “Son, do you know where that rice comes from?” While I felt guilty, he continued with the answer – “a farmer toils to grow it, it is bought by the Government using tax payer’s money – they trust you to keep them safe, you should not be wasting it” and walked away, to my relief. I never wasted a grain of rice or food after that nor would I permit someone else to waste food if I had control over him. Internal correction had taken place and probably I became self disciplined. Physical punishment may have been counterproductive.

There are occasions when group punishment needs to be executed. This is against the laws of natural justice, but is needed in military training. If a member of the group errs, then the entire group is called out for punishment. This enhances peer pressure on the individual who has erred and possibly prevents him from repeating it. This increases the bonding within the group to such an extent that the group is willing to take the punishment but will not reveal the name of the member who actually erred! ; despite being sorted out later. This bonding is essential for the group to deliver when needed.

Leadership is also about exercising authority when needed. When cadets are being trained for leadership the senior/officer has to exercise authority and punish those who do not obey. Punishments in NDA will generally be physical as in most occasions it is difficult to correct the cadet mentally. As long as these are not taken to the extreme and does not leave a scar on his mind it should be acceptable. The checks and balances will have to be established by the system – informally by the Divisional Officers interacting and correcting the senior cadets.
The present punishment policy and regimen of the cadets is so straight jacketed that I feel that the current crop of officers may fail to take initiative and risks when needed, if it is against a rule. We are experts at making rules. If I fly a normal sortie and if an enquiry is set up I can be blamed on at least ten counts – that is the number of rules that one is expected to follow. – Group Captain Johnson Chacko (retired), Former Bn Cdr, NDA

I have gone through your article on the subject more than once and the responses of our ex-servicemen friends forwarded by you.I have also critically studied the contents of the Appendix at the end of your article. Applying the legal yard stick, I have following observations:-

The terms ‘ improper discipline,’ ‘not paying suitable compliments, ‘ and ‘instructions given by officers or nominated senior cadets’ etc., ref to in sub paras (e),(f) and (g ) under heading,’ Breach of Discipline’, are abstract and vague in nature to ensure their strict compliance. These need to be defined at appropriate places with a view to eliminate confusion and avoid authoritative arrogance.

The term, ‘Field Punishments’ ref to in sub para (f) under heading ‘Contents of Punishments,’ appear to have been illegally included therein in, as much as the offenses of Field Punishments, as these were in Army Act Sections 75 and 76 have since been abolished by the Govt after an amendment of the Army Act by the Parliament, vide SRO 37 of 1992 being inhumane and archaic. As such, these punishments cannot be awarded to our cadets at the NDA.

Finally, the attitude of our junior officer instructors and senior cadets towards the cadets while awarding and conducting the punishments need to be modified appropriately. – Brigadier MG Kadam (Former DJAG HQ Southern & Eastern Command)

If you have something to add, do use the comments section below or write to StratPost@StratPost.com.

So what do you think?